By Victoria Arthur
Statehouse Correspondent for Indiana’s Catholic Newspapers
A bill designed to offer protections for pregnant women in the workplace is unlikely to move forward this year, despite backing from the governor and a broad base of support that includes the Catholic Church.
With Senate Bill 342, advocates were hoping to see Indiana become the 28th state to enact legislation providing “reasonable accommodations” for pregnant employees – from more frequent breaks to exemptions from heavy lifting. But after initially passing through committee, the measure was effectively tabled this month when the Senate voted 34-15 in favor of an amendment proposed by Sen. Andy Zay (R-Huntington) to send the issue to a summer study commission.
The Indiana Catholic Conference considered this a pro-life bill and expressed dismay that it was halted – while another measure reinforcing the sanctity of life moved forward in the same legislative chamber. A day after the vote on Senate Bill 342, lawmakers voted 40-9 in favor of Senate Bill 299, which requires abortion providers to treat fetal remains in a dignified manner.
“We are disappointed that the unborn and their mothers could not be offered protections in the same year that many were rightfully mindful and respectful of fetal remains,” said Angela Espada, executive director of the ICC, the public policy voice of the Catholic Church in Indiana.
For Espada, Senate Bill 342 is personal. She shared her own story with lawmakers during a January hearing on the legislation in the Senate Family and Children’s Services Committee.
“I am lucky to be here,” Espada said, explaining that she was born two months prematurely to a mother who worked long hours in an industrial laundry facility. “When you can help a pregnant mother sustain her pregnancy, that is pro-life.”
Senate Bill 342 had strong support from Gov. Eric Holcomb, who has made decreasing Indiana’s high infant and maternal mortality rates a priority. While progress has been made in recent years, Indiana currently ranks 7th in the United States for infant mortality and 3rd for maternal mortality.
“I put legislation requiring reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers on my agenda because I believe women should not have to choose between a paycheck and a healthy pregnancy,” Holcomb said in a statement. “I still believe that and will work over the coming months to persuade the Indiana General Assembly to include these very same accommodations that 27 other states have already enacted. I remain committed to improving infant and maternal health in Indiana so more moms and their babies get off to a better start.”
The bill, which would prohibit an employer with 15 or more employees from discriminating against a pregnant worker, faced opposition from the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and the Indiana Manufacturers Association. They and other opponents argued that many large employers already have protections in place and raised questions about the impact of the bill on small businesses.
But other business groups aligned with the broad coalition of the bill’s supporters, which range from physician groups to the March of Dimes to former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, now president of Purdue University. These proponents argued that the bill offered common-sense solutions for a serious problem.
Another measure backed by the ICC and the Indiana Institute for Working Families also hit roadblocks. Senate Bill 111 would have modernized the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program in Indiana, which has not been updated in more than 30 years.
TANF is a federal program that provides grants to states for distribution to families in deep poverty. Because of antiquated state guidelines, the $288 maximum monthly payout for a family of three in deep poverty has not been adjusted for inflation since 1988.
A nearly identical TANF bill passed the Senate unanimously last year, but Senate Bill 111 did not receive a committee hearing in this short session of the Indiana legislature.
To follow priority legislation of the ICC, visit www.indianacc.org. This website includes access to I-CAN, the Indiana Catholic Action Network, which offers the Church’s position on key issues. Those who sign up for I-CAN receive alerts on legislation moving forward and ways to contact their elected representatives.